Grandmother Lela, she of blue glass, strawberries and cream (literally - in front of game shows with our feet propped up on the recliner) and lilting laugh, loved amaryllis. I remember the shocking reds of the blossoms and the impressive size of the fast-growing stalks. I let the ancient bulbs she brought with her when we shared housing go long ago, but revisited the wonder of the flowers when the bulbs showed up in hardware stores in the fall. Seven weeks is a long time for a short person (or for me, for that matter!) but I potted a good-sized bulb in a bright ochre pot on top of a filing cabinet and began watering it in early November.
Right on schedule, I had a tall, impressive stalk and two promisingly fat buds when we came back to school in January. Responses from the kids ranged from, "Hey - is that real?" to "My auntie grows those things. It's gonna die and you'll have to throw it away." to "Is it there so we can paint it?" I love it. They immediately see the possibilities. One of the ongoing themes in our studio is answering the question of where do artists get ideas from so I like to provide the bizarre and beautiful as options. We talked about what struck us the most about the blooms as they opened over the space of several days. We measured the height of the stalks and curved leaves with our hands and guessed how big the blossoms would be. Our flower didn't disappoint and neither did any of the students' renderings. Media included watercolor, tempera cakes, melted crayon, colored pencil, crayons and markers. With some classes I sat and sketched my own renderings and painted a little, but I'm careful because I don't want my ideas to overpower their own wonderful concepts.
We had as many different approaches as we had artists "taking on" the amaryllis challenge. I think they're incredible, and some of the smiles suggest that their creators do, too.
Take one moist (this is the Pacific Northwest, after all) spring, add fragile spring bulbs, a generous friend or two, and you have a drive by daffodilling. How does that work, you ask? Simply place a vase with bright flowers in the center of the painting center and turn the kids loose. Sometimes I like to sit with them, scribbling my own ideas onto rough paper and playing with endlessly fascinating layers of transparent color. Sometimes not. If kids are allowed to explore their own ideas of how to bring flowers to life, it's a cleaner, purer process.
This group was fairly quiet during their daffodil encounter. I heard soft voices as they discussed a bit of color and a bit of technique, but voices never rose above comfortable friendship. The different results were interesting. Two artists chose the splashy heaviness of undiluted tempera for their flowers and, as friends often do, shared more than a few strokes in common. The third chose quieter watercolor from the Crayola pans/Prang refilles trays that are available in the center. I heard her thinking aloud about the differences between her painting and those of her friends and she was a little unsure whether she liked the result. My students are wise to my, "Tell me what you think about your piece." kinds of noises, and I sensed a desire from all three for a little more recognition of what they were doing. I'm a stubborn teacherperson, though, and I stuck to my guns (paint pots?) pointing out the specifics I saw: "You chose bright colors and wiggling lines here; I see the curve of the stem of the flower here; You decided to stress the outline with ink; You enlarged the flowers to give your picture strength." In that way I show that what they're doing impacts me but don't lay my values on top of their work before its finished. I also model the way we talk our way through the creative process sometimes.
The period is always too short. Without exception, there are howls of protest when I ring the cleanup bell, but their artwork is just like a snapshot of time. When these kiddos look at their pictures in coming years they'll remember this day, the friends who sat and painted beside them, and a little about the flowers that inspired them.
I'm certain the daffodils approve.